What to Look for in a Post-Graduate CDL Finishing Program

It can be difficult to see through the smokescreen of sign-on bonuses and more to find a good CDL Finishing Program for on-the-job training. Use this as a guide to help steer toward the best Finishing Program and carrier for you.

Are you qualified for a post-graduate CDL finishing program?

Candidates are eligible for Class A CDL Truck Driver Finishing programs after they have recently earned their Class A Commercial Driver’s License. Don’t have your CDL? Start with What to Look for in a CDL School. A Finishing Program provides the additional knowledge and skills that prepare the driver to independently drive behind the wheel. To qualify:

  • Be at least 18-23 years of age (depending on the carrier’s hiring guidelines)
  • Safe Personal Driving Record (speeding tickets, reckless driving, etc.)
  • No DUI/DWI or other alcohol-related convictions
  • Be able to pass a D.O.T. Physical and Drug Screen
  • Have a certificate of completion from an accredited truck driving CDL school with 140-160 hours coursework or ELDT certified institution)
  • Apply within 100 days of graduation from CDL school

What is covered in training?

Are you co-piloting or are you team driving? There are Finishing Programs that will place the trainee with an experienced driver in a team-driving configuration that places the “trainer” in the sleeper berth while the trainee is behind the wheel. This is not sufficient training to ensure the trainee is gaining the skills and coaching they need to be successful. Look for a company that will place you with a certified Driver Trainer who is your copilot mile-for-mile to develop your driving skills and get behind the wheel experience. Look for programs that cover:

  • Pre-trip Inspection, Permits, Emergency Equipment
  • Hours of Service, Trip-Planning, and Electronic Logs
  • Coupling and Uncoupling
  • Placing Vehicle in Motion and Use of Controls
  • Slowing and Stopping
  • Operating in Traffic, Turning, and Passing
  • Backing and Parking
  • Scaling of Loads
  • General Driving Ability

Does the program offer additional training from experts in Safety and Learning & Development Teams? Look for:

  • Interactive eLearning (Defensive Driving, Accident Procedures, and more)
  • Driver Mentors who will help provide additional insights
  • Interactive company-wide communications platform to reach out to other trainees and professional drivers

What is the duration of the training period?

You will want to look for a company with a min. of 2 weeks training behind the wheel in addition to the company’s orientation.

Is the training period paid?

Most companies offer paid training, but at a lower rate than they pay experienced drivers to subsidize the cost of training. Other programs may lock you in with a contract, such as 6 months to 1 year or more. Thoroughly vet the training pay and employment opportunities that are available once you’ve completed the Finishing Program training to verify those opportunities match your expectations (e.g., pay expectations and home time).

What is the company’s safety rating?

You’ll hear carriers say safety is their “top priority,” but is the company truly committed to driver safety? Use the FMCSA S.A.F.E.R. System to search the company (by USDOT Number or Name).

Guide to FMCSA Safety Ratings:

  • Satisfactory safety rating means that a motor carrier has functional and adequate safety management controls to meet the safety fitness standard prescribed in 49 CFR 385.5. Safety management controls are adequate if they are appropriate for the size and type of operation of the carrier.
  • Conditional safety rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard that could result in occurrences listed in 49 CFR 385.5 (a) through (k).
  • Unsatisfactory safety rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard, which has resulted in occurrences listed in 49 CFR 385.5.
  • Unrated means that a safety rating has not been assigned to the motor carrier by the FMCSA.

For example, Paper Transport, Inc.’s FMCSA safety rating is Satisfactory.

Continuing in the FMCSA S.A.F.E.R. System, scroll down to the carrier’s Inspections/Crashes section. You’ll be able to see the breakout of how the company compares to the national average.

For example, the National Average for drivers placed out of service after an inspection is 5.1% (as of 10/22/2020); Paper Transport, Inc.’s average is 0.3%. Any company that is above the National Average should be a clear sign to avoid.

What is the company’s turnover?

You want to be with a company that values its employees and a clear indicator is their turnover. Large truckload fleets average 90% and small truckload average 80% turnover (Source: FleetOwner, Oct. 21, 2020). Let that sink in. If a company of 1,000 truck drivers has an 80% turnover, that means they have to continue hiring 800 drivers over the course of the year to maintain a 1,000 driver headcount.

If you ask the company about their turnover, it shows you are making decisions with great care and strategy. A good carrier will respect you for it. If the carrier you’re pursuing isn’t upfront about their turnover, then move on. You can also reach out to drivers who currently work for the company or check out the company’s Social Media reviews to get a feel for the culture and to validate if what the recruiter says is true.

This completes our final installment of the Commercial Driver’s License Training Tips series. Missed Part I and Part II? Use the links below to review:

Want the best? Learn more about Paper Transport’s Accelerate Finishing Program!